Geology on Ice

Peter Doran, PhD, believes there is life on other planets.

Quick to explain that he doesn’t mean little green men, the hydrogeologist theorizes that microorganisms likely exist every place there’s water, including the ice-covered lakes of Jupiter’s moon Europa.

“Everywhere there’s water on Earth, there’s life,” Doran said. “It seems reasonable that, if we look to a moon of Jupiter, and there’s water there, there could very well be life. It happened here.”

Doran is the first person to hold the John Franks Endowed Chair in the Department of Geology & Geophysics, a title he doesn’t hold lightly. The Franks chair honors the legacy of John Franks, a 1949 geology graduate and founder of Franks Petroleum Inc. A valued supporter of LSU and the geology program, Franks was a founding member of the LSU Geology Endowment, and a member of the LSU Foundation Board of Directors, LSU Board of Supervisors and Tiger Athletic Foundation Stadium Club.

“I see my job as being a science ambassador for the university,” Doran shared, adding that he views the position as an opportunity to raise the profile of LSU and help build the “already really good” geology department.

In October, Doran will be an ambassador on the Ross Ice Shelf, a previously unresearched layer of ice over the Ross Sea in Antarctica. This three-month-long research trip will be the first time he’s worn purple and gold on the continent, but it will mark his 16th visit since he began researching the area 20 years ago. The professor specializes in studying lakes, particularly studying life in the ice-covered waters of polar regions like Antarctica.

“There are lakes on this planet that are in the coldest and driest environment you can find. Yet, there’s lakes and there’s life living in those lakes, and doing quite well actually,” Doran eagerly explained, adding, “There’s so much more to discover and learn. That’s what keeps me excited. It’s a hard continent to research because it’s so vast, and it’s hard to get to, and there’s extreme weather. There’s going to be a lot of work to be done for a long time.”

The research he and his colleagues will perform, like most of Doran’s research, gives the world a better understanding of what’s happened in the past, what happens now, and what will likely happen in the future. Doran operates 15 climate stations in Antarctica that show climate change in the area.

“This work on the ice shelf, I see that as really important,” he said. “It’s defining a whole new ecosystem that’s completely unexplored and trying to figure out ‘What are the limits of life?’ and ‘What is possible in our universe?’ I find that a fascinating question.”

Though spending three months near the South Pole doesn’t sound glamorous, Doran says he didn’t choose this life—“It chose me. I’ve always loved the outdoors, so it was natural for me to get involved in studying the natural environment. I just kept wanting to get more and more remote and more and more extreme. I just do what I find to be interesting. That’s why I love my job.”

Published in Cornerstone Summer and Fall 2015.

Full Service

It wasn’t just a long weekend. It wasn’t just a Monday with no classes to teach or lessons to learn. It was a day for giving, for showing kindness.

Of all things. Kindness.

St. Joseph’s Academy’s Sister Adele Lambert celebrated her 75th birthday last December, and at the nun’s request, the school declared March 19, the Feast of St. Joseph, a “Day of Kindness” to celebrate.

“If you open your heart in gratitude for what you have, what you’ve received, then your heart is open to other people,” Lambert says. “That’s how kindness is the result of love and gratitude. If you feel you’re loved, you’re grateful. Then, you want to give back.”

What could have been another routine spring-semester Monday saw the school’s students visiting nursing homes and the local food bank, bonding with younger siblings and paying for strangers’ coffees. Teachers visited lonely hospital patients, made special treats for their students and took an older staff member with “nothing to wear” dress shopping.

Sydney Johnson and Mikayla Vicknair, both ninth-graders, began visiting Landmark nursing home on March 3 to meet their 10 required service hours in elder care. For Johnson and Vicknair, the Day of Kindness started before March 19 and has extended beyond.

When the announcement came for students and faculty to perform simple acts of kindness instead of lesson plans and quizzes, Vicknair knew immediately where to spend her day without classes.

“When they said it, I knew what I was going to do,” she says. “I was going to come [to Landmark of Baton Rouge]. I really didn’t think about it; I just knew.”

The students baked cupcakes and delivered them to residents of the nursing home, played bingo and painted fingernails. They listened to old stories and shared some of their own. They began to develop strong relationships there. Now, they visit every weekend, even though their service-hour requirements have long since been met.

“I think that it’s fun, and I just like helping people,” Vicknair says. “It inspires me.”

Lambert describes the Day of Kindness as a way to encourage her students to be what she calls “persons of great-hearted love.”

The best way to do so, she says, is by example.

Lambert spent May 19 visiting her beloved second-grade teacher, who is now more than 100 years old.

An alumna of SJA herself, Lambert joined the Congregation of St. Joseph when she received her habit on March 19, 1955.

A longtime educator, Lambert joined SJA as president in 2004, charged with overseeing the school’s finances and development and the maintenance and supervision of campus buildings.

But one of her key missions is to show students that putting others first is good for the soul.

“No matter who you talk to that is in a service-oriented position—a nurse, a physician, a social worker—people get strength and energy from their service,” Lambert says.

Though March 19 was dedicated to giving back, Lambert believes the spirit the occasion should never end with the close of the day.

Kindness means making a personal commitment to building community, she says.

“There’s so much abuse in the world that there has to be some of us that are kind.”

Originally published in 225 magazine.

Ready, Set, Go

Doodling in a notebook is a way of passing time for most kids. For set designer Matt Gatlin, it was the beginning of his career.

Gatlin, 30, was constantly drawing, making animated flip books and interested in scale models. He decided to study architecture at LSU because of his affinity for math and creativity, interning at several Baton Rouge architecture firms while in school.

He’s spent the past four years as a set designer, assistant prop master and prop master on several films. Recently, he was a set designer and model maker on Beautiful Creatures, and he is now doing pre-production as a set designer on Twelve Years a Slave, starring Brad Pitt and Michael Fassbender.

Jeremy Woolsey, a local production designer and art director, says Gatlin’s talents in architecture and graphic design make him indispensable on set.

“He brings so much to a project and makes my life easier. Not many people in the Louisiana crew base carry all of those skills so readily in their back pocket,” Woolsey says.

Gatlin and Woolsey have worked on more than 10 feature films, commercials and other projects together.

Most recently, they worked on Pitch Perfect, a comedy about competitive college a cappella groups, with Gatlin serving as assistant art director. He has helped design sets or props for other films, including Battle: Los AngelesThe Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn and The Baytown Disco.

For Pitch Perfect, which was partially shot at LSU, Gatlin says, “For one scene, we set up a full student activities fair in the small quad area between Hill Memorial and Middleton Library. That means we had to design logos, banners and any material that would be on or around tables for about 30 student club or activity booths.”

When working as a set designer, Gatlin must produce drawings and models to help convince the director the set should look a certain way. He must include detailed plans to aid the construction coordinator’s understanding of how to budget and build the set.

As a prop master, Gatlin is responsible for finding or creating every prop to be used: money, food, weapons, accessories, license plates, skins for vehicles, etc. He talks with directors and producers to determine what all of the props should be, then works with his assistants to ensure prop continuity throughout the film.

Local producer Jason Hewitt says Gatlin brought a laid-back personality to the set.

“The guy enjoys his work, and it shows,” Hewitt says. “We have presented Matt with a number of monumental challenges, and he just smiles and delivers.”

Originally published in 225 magazine

Tractor Push

Nathan lost control of the tractor. It was his first time to drive the new machine, and the mechanics were foreign to him. Donald was running alongside him, shouting instructions.

“Clutch the tractor! Turn it off!”

Right before he careened into a ditch, Nathan killed the ignition.

“Why did you not just press the clutch?” Donald asked. “It’s just like an automobile.”

The Ugandan turned to the Louisiana farmer and answered, “I have never driven an automobile.”

Erwinville grain farmer Donald Schexnayder was one of six people from The Chapel on the Campus in Baton Rouge to visit Fort Portal, Uganda, back in February. Schexnayder and John B. Coast, owner of Coast Machinery, traveled halfway around the world to teach Nathen and two other Ugandans how to farm using a tractor.

Tractor Push

The 600 students of the Nyambuga Christian School walk up to five miles each day to get to class. Most are fed only one small meal at their homes in the evening. The lack of sufficient food leaves them so tired and undernourished they have difficulty staying awake in class.

The school sits on fertile land, though—an opportunity Sister Gertrude, its director, recognized. Unfortunately, she could not afford the equipment to farm it—until a Chapel member, who whishes to remain anonymous, donated two John Deere 65 HP tractors, a disc, tiller, plow, row builders, cultivator, bush hog and a customized John Deere 7100 2-row planter to the Ugandan school.

Tractor Push

The equipment was sent to Fort Portal in October 2011 with donated shipping charges of $13,000

“With this tractor, we can do in one day what it took us two months to do by hand,” Sister Gertrude says. “We will now be able to feed our students and have surplus to sell.”

Before the equipment arrived, Schexnayder says they were planting small amounts of corn using a marked rope.

“They would stretch it out and, at the marks, they would dig a hole and drop 2-3 corn seeds, cover and move on,” he says. “Once they reached the end of the rope, they would move it over and continue the same.”

In Fort Portal, only the government and large plantations can afford to own modern farming machinery like the tractor. For their farming tools, “they have cane knives and shovels,” Schexnayder says. “Worlds of difference.”

Because tractors are so rare, Schexnayder and Coast had to train Nathen, Nyambuga head director, and the other men to operate it. They were “trained in all aspects of the operations and upkeep of the tractors and equipment,” says Dennis Eenigenburg, former teaching pastor at The Chapel and current president of Equipping Network, the nonprofit organization that sponsored the trip. Equipping Network provides seminary-accredited training to third-world pastors and economic and agricultural enrichment projects in high-need areas through local churches.

This was Eenigenburg’s third trip to Uganda, one of the more than 20 countries he’s been to for missionary work. When he visited the school on a previous trip, he saw the need for proper farm equipment. He says Baton Rouge responded with an overwhelming show of generosity.

He recruited Schexnayder and Coast to plot corn, but this mission trip was multi-functional. He also drafted two businessmen, Pinson & Associates owner Bret Pinson and Hub International employee Kit Marye, to lead business seminars in two large churches in Kampala, a four-hour drive from Fort Portal. Because of these seminars, funds were raised for a micro-finance bank in Kampala to offer loans for new start-up businesses.

Tractor Push

Eenigenburg’s son Jon was the sixth member of the mission trip. He went for the children. During the trip, he participated in several children’s festivals and worked with Mercy Childcare Orphanage in Kampala. Mercy builds cottages for family-structured (two parents and six children) living, improving on the typical dormitory-style orphanage.

“Following the trip,” Dennis Eenigenburg says, “we have been able to secure donations for the sponsorship of some of these orphans, as well as interest in helping with the construction of new cottages for the 86 children under their care.”

According to Eenigenburg, Ugandans earn, on average, $500 per year, “yet have the most joyous and hospitable demeanor. Out of their poverty and persecution, they have developed a faith in Jesus Christ that literally trusts him for their daily bread.”

Through donations made by members of The Chapel on the Campus, the people of Fort Portal are able to grow the grain for their daily bread, too.

Originally published in 225 magazine

Cover Worthy

Rodney Pike might think you have a big nose. Or squinty eyes. Or a chin that sticks out a bit too much. No offense. It’s his job.

The Baton Rouge-born caricature artist, now in Gonzales, exaggerates a person’s naturally prominent features, and sometimes their naturally diminished features, to create a caricature.

But this isn’t the kind of caricature you get while on vacation.
Pike says he knew he had talent at a young age when he was praised for his art and, in junior high, sold some of his paintings.

The Rolling Stones, illustrated by Rodney Pike
The Rolling Stones, illustrated by Rodney Pike

Previously a service manager in the car business, he says he’s always known he wanted to be an illustrator. “When I saw my first Saturday Evening Post cover, I knew,” Pike says. “All of my childhood, from a very young age until I got out of the military [US Navy] in 1988, I wanted to be an illustrator like my childhood idol, Norman Rockwell.”
He didn’t discover his passion for photo manipulation until he entered a Photoshop contest in April 2010.

“I had finally found my niche,” Pike says. “Since that day, my art has consumed me once again as it had in my youth.

Pike began to pour himself into studying photo manipulation, other artists and Adobe Photoshop, the software he uses to achieve the exaggerated images. He attempted his first caricature in May 2010 with a movie poster spoof using Napoleon Dynamite—and ignited a fire.

“It has very quickly become my job and that was not my intent,” he says. “I started doing photo manipulation and caricatures because it was fun and it’s still fun. I just get paid for some of my work now, which totally blows me away.” Pike’s work has been published in several publications including FHM and Tennis magazine as well as a cover image for The Village Voice.

Pike manipulates photos of celebrities and politicians in satirical situations. With no training in Photoshop, caricatures or art, each piece is an instinctive, inspirational, learning experience.

Bobby Jindal, illustrated by Rodney Pike
Bobby Jindal, illustrated by Rodney Pike

Asked how other illustrators respond to his digital caricatures, Pike says: “There are many ‘traditional’ caricature artists—if there is such a thing anymore—who haven’t accepted me or my work because it’s different. … It will come with time as it always has.”

If he is not working on a photo for a client, he’ll choose a photo from his library of images, or one of 6-8 caricatures that are slow works-in-progress, and begin working.

“If it’s not flowing for me, I close it out and move on to something new,” he says. “I always end up coming back, and sometimes I see things I didn’t see the first time, but the main thing is that I’m inspired to work on it. If the inspiration isn’t there, I’m wasting my time. That’s why I rotate works in progress.”

Pike says that when he works on a piece, he has no process. He’ll start somewhere and “let the piece lead” him. “I’m not sure how it happens but somehow in the end, the piece ends up being recognizable as my work, my style, whatever that is. It’s a total mystery to me,” he says.

Originally published in 225 magazine

Feeding Souls

Eric and Derric Wright grew up without a home.

Sure, the twin brothers lived in houses with their mother, but they moved every year in a whirlwind game of musical chairs. Their mom’s financial limitations took them from New Orleans to several houses throughout North Baton Rouge and eventually to Texas. Each time they felt settled, the music began again.

It was in back in Baton Rouge where the music finally stopped. They found a seat. They found a home.

Their home is the Baton Rouge Dream Center, an inner-city campus of Healing Place Church’s Servolution outreach ministry.

The boys walked four miles almost every day to get to the after-school program at the center. “If we stayed home,” Derric Wright says, “we knew we was gonna do somethin’ stupid. But if we went to church, we’d start doin’ what we like to do or love to do. And that’s serve others and try to make a difference in the world.”

Healing Place is a nondenominational church with 6,000 members spread among its eight local and international locations. Feeding people in need is one of the church’s many outreach programs.

With multiple 100-gallon cooking pots, twin rotisserie smokers—each capable of cooking 800 pounds of food—and a 30-foot barbecue pit and mobile convection oven, Healing Place is uniquely prepared to feed victims of even massive disasters, as well as the people who respond to them.

“It’s hard to talk with a kid who’s starving about God. But if you take care of his stomach, then you’ll be able to take care of his heart.”

They fed police at Ground Zero in New York after the 9/11 attacks, and they’ve fed victims of hurricanes and tornadoes.

Their work is not limited to serving meals. After floods in Nashville, they helped clean the streets. After deadly tornadoes in Huntsville, Ala., they distributed diapers. And when Katrina devastated the Gulf, they became a disaster relief hub for Baton Rouge and the evacuees from New Orleans.

When they travel to an area, whether streets are strewn with fallen trees or drowned in water, they partner with a local church to ensure those souls have refuge once they leave.

Any member of the church will tell you that Servolution began in Pastor Dino Rizzo’s heart as “a revolution of Christ through serving.”

“We believe the greatest cause you could give your life for is serving others,” Rizzo says. “Christ set the ultimate example by modeling a life of servant-hood. We have discovered that serving unlocks even the hardest of hearts and opens them to the love of God.”

Servolution volunteers bring doctor-approved snacks to chemotherapy patients, throw parties for foster care children and low-income neighborhoods and cook jambalaya for victims of natural disasters.

Once the ministry began taking root in the church and in Baton Rouge, Rizzo wrote a book about some of the lives it has touched. More than 500 churches globally have begun Servolution programs in their own communities.

“A lot of people can say a lot of different things,” JP Brumfield, Healing Place Church Outreach Coordinator, says. “But, whenever you actually show someone, tangibly, God’s love for them, a lot of times it means more for them than anything you could have said.”

Brumfield, 27, began attending and serving at Healing Place 11 years ago. He began serving, he said, because he could think of no better way to show God’s love than to do something practical for a person in need.

“It’s hard to talk with a kid who’s starving about God. But if you take care of his stomach, then you’ll be able to take care of his heart,” he says. “We serve people because the Bible says to, and we just want to show them love.”

They take care of hungry stomachs at their weekly breakfast for the homeless community, one of more than 20 Healing Place outreach programs.

The day begins at 5:20 a.m. at the Highland Road campus, when volunteers assemble to scramble eggs and bake biscuits. They cook this meal following the Healing Place recipe: there is a single team leader, and everyone else is assigned a role. Each volunteer must follow a checklist to stay within health codes, to manage their time and to leave the kitchen clean for the next group.

The food is packed and ready for transport at 6 a.m. on the button. Clad in jeans and red “Serve” shirts, the volunteers gather among industrial-sized cans of green beans and jars of oregano, holding hands and giving thanks in prayer for the opportunity to serve.

At 6:30, they arrive to set up at the Dream Center warehouse. There are homeless men waiting outside. They’re not waiting for food. They’re waiting to help.

“We like to instill value for the homeless,” Brumfield says. These men consider the warehouse theirs. They show up early to take care of it—to clean it and set up for breakfast.

By 6:50, several more people have arrived—homeless men, women and a toddler in a stroller. Before they get their food, they pray their thanks.

Ten minutes later, classical music begins to play. Homeschooled students Roger Hartman, 17, and Michael Hartman, 14, bring their instruments (viola and cello, respectively) every Wednesday morning. The brothers have been attending Healing Place for three years and playing their instruments for nine. Like many of the congregation’s thousands of members, when they saw a need they could fill, they were anxious to serve.

“When I come,” Roger says, “it just seems like people enjoy it. And I just like bringing happiness.”

Michael adds, “Since they liked it, I wanted to help out with that. Help them enjoy their breakfast.”

To Jeffrey Smith, 48, the music is just one of the things that makes these breakfasts enjoyable.

“It keeps my spirits pretty high,” Smith says. “I’m hoping next year will be a better year. These guys help keep your mind focused on more positive things. You know, you get a little of the Word in on Wednesday mornings, which helps a lot.”

Smith, a former furniture mover, was hit by a car and has not been able to work since. He’s been coming to the community breakfasts for two years.

“We were living in a really, really rough part [of town] that was all bad people. We thought that was the only way to live. But when we started going to church, that affected me by letting us know that there is a way, and there is hope in the world.”

The breakfast is relatively small in scale compared to the church’s more typical 1,000-plate events or its more rare all-day 5,000-plate cooking marathons. “The problem isn’t the cooking,” Brumfield says. “It’s the serving. It takes a long time to serve 1,000 people.”

Serving may take time, but it’s something at which Healing Place seems to excel. “It’s what God wants me to do,” says volunteer Alex Johnson, 31. “I just felt God calling me to be a servant.”

Because of Servolution’s outreach programs, like the breakfast for the homeless, lives are changed.

Eric and Derric, for example, now call the Dream Center home. Eric is raising money to go to ministry school and become a youth pastor. They work multiple jobs and help children the same way they were helped.

“We were living in a really, really rough part [of town] that was all bad people,” Derric Wright says. “We thought that was the only way to live. But when we started going to church, that affected me by letting us know that there is a way, and there is hope in the world.”

It’s teaching kids in the inner city hope instead of violence. It’s changing the oil in a widowed woman’s car. It’s bringing a bag of food to a grandmother with 17 mouths to feed and bare cupboards.

It’s Servolution.

Originally published in 225 magazine

Thinking for a Change

The Rise of Education Alternatives in Baton Rouge

If you fall asleep in class, your teacher might swat you with a ruler. Or give you detention. Or even pull a prank on you. Nancy Zito turns off the lights.

The Director of the Gardere Community Christian School understands that she needs to meet her students’ physical needs before she can meet their educational needs.

One of her students’ needs is sleep.

“We have families living with maybe eight people in a two-bedroom apartment,” Zito says. In at least one of those families, the children sleep on the floor in the living room. “Their brothers stay up late watching TV, so they’re up late. We give them 15 minutes to nap in the morning, and they’re fine.”

Zito says the nap times, hot breakfasts and lunches, and the individual attention she and her faculty show their 30 students are a few of the reasons they’ve been successful in bringing the students’ performance up several grade levels since their transition from public schools.

The Gardere area is only one of the many local communities with poor-performing public schools. In 2012, the state gave 62% of public schools in East Baton Rouge Parish a grade of D or F. Another 26% received a C. Those grades don’t lie. Education in Baton Rouge needs to change.

Zito is intent on making that change. Her school, a private elementary, focuses efforts on students from the Gardere neighborhood who struggled in their previous educational situations. The school, which began as a tutoring program, accepted its first batch of students last school year.

Nancy Zito with her students
Nancy Zito with her students

“We didn’t get students who were doing extremely well in public school,” she says. “All of our students came in last year at a first-grade or below level, and we had first- through fourth-graders [last year].”

One student, now in the school’s first fifth-grade class, was at a Pre-K level when he arrived a year ago. Since then, his reading level has advanced to third grade, and his math to the fifth-grade average.

“He was going to be put in special needs because when they can’t do anything, that’s what they do,” Zito says. “Get them put on medication or put them in special needs classes.”

Public schools, with large classes and governmental pressure dictating lesson plans, rarely have the luxury of providing individual attention like this child received from Zito’s faculty. The former New Yorker says Baton Rouge has some great public schools, but individual attention becomes difficult in large classes, and the school’s focus becomes security and discipline rather than academics.

As for that boy now catching up with his peers nationwide, “He’s not special needs,” Zito says.

“He’s fantastic.”

In Baton Rouge, Zito’s private school is not the only new or alternative effort to work at improving education.

“It’s not surprising [to see more education alternatives],” says Chas Roemer, the Baton Rouge-based president of the state’s Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. “What is surprising is the amount of time it has taken for these efforts to really come to the front given the enormous need in our community. Change is difficult, though, and always seems like swimming upstream.”

Parish Superintendent Bernard Taylor is thinking differently, too. He wants to create attendance regions so parents have options for where their children go to school, instead of feeling trapped in low-performing neighborhood schools.

The East Baton Rouge Parish School System is working with the Recovery School District, a special school district administered by the Louisiana Department of Education, to create an Achievement Zone to completely change Baton Rouge’s lowest-performing schools.

New Schools for Baton Rouge is a new project raising $30 million to turn around schools in the area through one educationally radical idea: autonomy.

This Baton Rouge Area Foundation-funded start-up is based on New Schools for New Orleans, an effort that, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, transformed the Crescent City’s public education model with charter-run schools that have seen a dramatic boost in performance scores and graduation rates.

“Yes, the hurricane was a catalyst, but any community in the state or country doesn’t need a hurricane to make real change,” says Chris Meyer, CEO of New Schools for Baton Rouge. “If we prove it’s possible here, in now our most challenged neighborhood, we’re not only showing this proof that it can happen with anyone, we’re also showing that New Orleans wasn’t a fluke.”

If all goes according to plan, that’s exactly what he’ll prove. Meyer is scouring the country for educators and school leaders who have shown their capabilities in the past. Meyer says several nationally renowned charters have shown interest, and he expects a full list of applicants by May 1. New Schools will only be working with schools that don’t follow school board orders, such as charter schools, so those hired can do what they do best in the best way they can do it.

“We want to invest in school models or school operators that have already demonstrated success,” Meyer says. “They’ve got be given maximum autonomy, so no one from a central office should dictate how they operate day-to-day.” This autonomy isn’t available for most traditional public schools that receive their orders from the school board.

“We should set a bar of accountability really high for the school and say we expect that you’re going to deliver all your students on a path to college and career-readiness,” he continues. “But we’re not going to tell you how to do it, because we’ve seen your track record of success. We know you’ve done it before, so we expect you to do it again.”

Meyer plans for New Schools to keep a watchful eye over the changes and to weed and prune as circumstances dictate. “If you have accountability on those schools, if they’re not able to get the job done, there’s a way to take them out and put in somebody else who can get the job done.”

Chris Meyer
Chris Meyer of New Schools for Baton Rouge, a new nonprofit that will raise money and support the failed schools in the Achievement Zone, stands in front of Istrouma High School.

The “new” in the movement’s title refers to the newfound power schools must have at the educator level in order for change to take place. Meyer, a former Teach for America instructor, says he saw firsthand the educational disaster that happens when schools cannot make their own decisions.

“In my classroom,” he says, “I had high expectations for my kids in their behavior and their learning, and things they would deliver to keep pushing themselves to hit the bar. Yet I’d look in the classroom next to me, and the teacher would be asleep with her feet on the desk.”

In this first year of teaching in New Orleans before Katrina, he saw four principals come and go at his school.

“None of those principals could fire me; none of those principals could have moved me anywhere else. I wasn’t ever picked to be on their team by them. I was put there by a central office,” he says. “I got to see, both on the school level and the system level, a dysfunctional system that wasn’t actually working for kids.”

Meyer says the New Orleans school system was set up in a way that protected jobs rather than educated children.

“The number of people you would hear [making] comments [about] kids as young as elementary and kind of throwing them to the waste bin and saying, ‘There’s nothing we could do for them’—it was just abysmal,” he says.

Nothing we could do for them. This defeatist attitude, the one also being challenged by Zito, is not unrecognizable in Baton Rouge. However, after the recent improvements in New Orleans, more Baton Rougeans have been inspired to reevaluate our public school system.

For Meyer, this reevaluation begins with the goal of reaching 12,000 students in North Baton Rouge in the next five years.

“People will say the reason those schools are failing is because of things like poverty,” Meyer says. “I fundamentally disagree with that. Poverty isn’t the destiny of a school.”

According to Meyer, that destiny lies in the hands of those making the decisions. Who is hiring and firing teachers? It needs to be someone who sees their performance on a daily, not yearly, basis. Who decides what students will learn? It should be teachers who know their students’ needs, not someone writing a blanket memo for an entire parish.

“When you see an excellent school,” Meyer says, “you see some excellent things happening in those schools.”

The general agreement among many working for change seems to be that this autonomy, this power, is most easily found in charter schools. Charter schools are public schools funded by local, state and federal tax dollars, just like any other public school, though these innovative schools receive less funding in exchange for more flexibility. Attendance is by choice, not mandated by geography.

“We believe that, regardless of socio-economic status, our students will have access to an excellent education,” says Cheryl Ollmann, principal of Baton Rouge Children’s Charter.

Once a D- school, Children’s Charter is both the oldest and, recently, most successful charter school in Baton Rouge.

“Given leadership changes, the autonomy allowed as a charter, and our business partners, in 2011 we were the fifth highest improved school in the parish,” wrote former Principal Marc Commanducci in a recent email to supporters.

These “education warriors” agree that having the power to cater to students’ individual needs is an essential ingredient for educational success. Louisiana Connections Academy is taking that concept to a new level.

Connections Academy is a national online school organization that provides teachers with a curriculum. The teachers then adjust those lessons as needed for their virtual students.

“All teachers are fully aware of which students need accommodations, as well as [which] students need enrichment lessons,” says Shari Laterrade, a local Connections teacher.

The online K-12 public school is a good option for students in the entertainment industry who need flexible schedules, as well as students who were bullied and need healthy educational environments, she says.

“Students can progress through lessons at their own pace while having access to caring and certified teachers,” Laterrade says. “As a middle school English and Language Arts teacher, I ‘meet’ with my students every week in my ‘Live Lesson’ classroom. I can address individual student concerns in real time.”

The program uses webcams, headsets and special software to ensure students get face-to-virtual-face interaction and customized lessons. When more socialization and hands-on lessons are needed, the students take field trips.

“Baton Rouge’s goal should be to be the nation’s leader in the idea that public education means more than just government-run schools,” Roemer says. “We need to change the phrase ‘public education’ to ‘educating the public.’ The trend will be and should be that we will be a community that embraces educational excellence, and the source of that education will be across multiple providers, rather just a traditional system.”

Today, those multiple providers are becoming a reality. Baton Rouge has Zito reaching underserved Gardere children, Meyer remodeling as many as 25 North Baton Rouge schools in five years, and Laterrade offering online education. In total, seven charter schools are operating in Baton Rouge. Thrive, a chartered boarding school, is completing its first year (see sidebar on Thrive here). Of course, educators in public and private schools across the parish are striving now more than ever to help students reach their maximum potential.

Turn on the lights. Baton Rouge is waking up.

Originally published in 225 magazine

Board Member’s Legacy Honored

The late Henry Goodrich’s attendance at LSU was almost an assumption. His father and great-great-grandfather were both alumni, just as two of his three children eventually became.

His passion for the university, however, was his own.

Henry graduated in 1951 with his bachelor’s in geology, a degree program he chose after hearing the reputation of a particularly difficult biology professor. “That began a love of geology and, later, oil and gas and the oil and gas exploration business,” Henry’s son Gil said.

Henry built his career in oil and gas, eventually forming Goodrich Oil Company, and later serving as chairman emeritus of NYSE-listed Goodrich Petroleum Corporation, of which Gil now serves as vice chairman and CEO. Gil shared that his father believed in hard work and success, but, more importantly, honor and integrity, “which, I think, marked him as a leader in the oil and gas industry.”

Throughout his career, Gil said, “he always stayed close to LSU, the College of Science and Geology. He was very passionate about higher education in Louisiana and strengthening the LSU flagship in Baton Rouge. He believed very strongly that improvement of the university would come through dedicated endowments and improving the quality of the university in higher education.”

Henry’s lifelong commitment to LSU included serving on the LSU Foundation’s Board of Directors for 25 years, with a term as chairman from 1987-88. The College of Science recently showed its appreciation of his service and stellar career by inducting him into their Hall of Distinction.

Knowing the importance of philanthropy at LSU to his father, Gil and his family are naming the north entrance of the LSU Foundation Center for Philanthropy in Henry’s memory. “It was something he cared greatly about,” Gil said. “He loved people, and he loved life. He was very generous of both his time and his money. He had great compassion for other people.”

“I and my family, given his love of the university and passion about the LSU Foundation, thought this was a very appropriate way to honor him and the things that were important to him.”

Published in Cornerstone Winter and Spring 2015.

An Investment in Louisiana

After his first eye exam at 15, Dr. Frank Sanchez knew he wanted to be an optometrist. That determination took him first to LSU-Alexandria, where he met his wife, Janet, on day one. The couple then transferred to LSU in Baton Rouge before moving to Texas when Frank was accepted into the University of Houston College of Optometry.

Now living in Marksville, LA, the two are still inseparable, even in business. Janet has worked as business manager and bookkeeper for Frank’s optometry practice for the past 32 years.

The couple passed their dedication to education on to their children, Jessica and Jonathon, by teaching them a college degree would lead to success. “I’ve always been a big believer in academics,” Frank shared. “In today’s world, you have a chance of being more successful with a college education.”

Though neither graduated from LSU, Frank and Janet became members of the LSU Foundation seven years ago to support the state’s flagship university. “I thought the work the Foundation was trying to accomplish was worthy of contributing to,” Frank said. “It was something I needed to do and wanted to do.”

The Sanchezes believe support for the university is necessary to maintain a strong flagship. “Support for higher education in this state is important if we’re going to grow as a state economically,” Frank explained. “We can do more as a state if we have a strong flagship university.”

Published in Cornerstone Winter and Spring 2015.

All in the Family

Throughout his career as a lawyer, Huntington Odom had many successes. He was a partner at a Baton Rouge law firm, served as treasurer for the Louisiana State Law Institute, and was formative in shaping the state’s last constitutional revisions to benefit LSU.

With every success, he reflected on the importance of his LSU education. “He felt a deep obligation to the university and the law school,” Pat Odom said of her late husband. “If he said once, he said a million times, ‘All the success I’ve had, I owe to the university, the education I got there, and to the law school.’”

Huntington showed his lifelong appreciation for the LSU Paul M. Hebert Law Center by creating the James Huntington Odom and Patricia Kleinpeter Odom Professorship through a bequest in his will.

“They thought so much of the professors, at that time, and had such a regard for them,” Pat shared. “He valued the very good teachers that he had, and he wanted to make sure the law school had the money to hire the best in the country.”

Pat explained that there is a great need for philanthropy at LSU because donors provide funds the state cannot. “We need to support the university,” she said. “They need the money.”

Just as the endowed professorship will carry Huntington’s name for generations, generations of his family carry on his name—and legacy. James Huntington “Hunter” Odom III is currently in his first year at the law center.

Huntington’s grandson first pursued his medical degree, but after completing the master’s program at Mississippi College, returned to Baton Rouge to continue the family’s legal heritage. “I’ve always hoped to go to law school at some point or another,” Hunter said. “This is what my great-grandfather did. This is what my grandfather did.”

Hunter’s great-grandfather, John Fred Odom, was a local lawyer, a judge and the district attorney in the inquisition of Gov. Huey P. Long’s assassination. The lineage goes further still with his great-great-grandfather, Rep. James Manley Odom, who served in the state legislature. Hunter shared that he feels a sense of responsibility with his family history. “One of the things I’m most proud of is my name,” he said, adding, “Being here at LSU Law School is an honor and a dream come true. This is where I’m supposed to be.”

Published in Cornerstone Winter and Spring 2015.